human capital

A cheer, then a caution, as theater teacher hiring rules relax

Add theater to the list of subjects for which principals have been allowed to circumvent the city’s longstanding teacher hiring freeze.

The city allowed four principals to hire theater teachers from outside the school system last month, breaking from the hiring restrictions in place since May 2009 that limit most job searches to current city teachers.

The Center for Arts Education, a group that advocates for more arts instruction in the city’s public schools, released a statement cheering the city for opening hiring for theater teachers and calling on it to end the freeze for all arts teachers. The city has just 100 theater teachers, and 20 percent of schools have no arts teachers at all, according to CAE.

But city officials said the hiring freeze hasn’t been lifted in theater the way it has been in other subjects, such as Latin and English as a second language. Instead, the city simply granted exemptions to all of the schools looking for theater teachers in mid-September, according to Ann Forte, a Department of Education spokeswoman. At the time, there was just a single theater teacher in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of excessed teachers to which principals are expected to look first when filling vacant positions, she said.

Currently, the city’s hiring system lists no open positions for theater teachers, Forte said.

There are currently 54 vacant positions for arts teachers, according to CAE’s statement. The city did not immediately respond to questions about how many arts teachers are in the ATR pool, but last fall, there were dozens.

Here’s the full statement from CAE policy director Doug Israel:

October 18, 2010

The city’s Department of Education has announced that the system-wide hiring freeze for New York City public schools has been lifted for theater teachers in order to fill current school-based vacancies. That’s great news.

As the director of research and policy for The Center for Arts Education I have advocated on CAE’s behalf to lift this freeze as one of several means to ensure that city public schools have an adequate array of highly qualified arts instructors on staff.

Since 2009 city schools have only been allowed to hire existing DOE teachers-either working in other schools or in excess in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool-to fill vacancies. Principals will now be permitted to hire licensed theater teachers from outside the system to fill these slots. This is a welcome development as there are only approximately 100 theater teachers citywide and more than 1.1 million school children-a ratio of about 1 theater teacher for every 11,000 city students.

There are currently four announced vacancies for theater teachers in city schools. Theater teachers licensed by the State of New York can apply for these positions by uploading relevant materials to the TeachNYC portal at: http://schools.nyc.gov/TeachNYC/apply/default.htm.

We commend the DOE for responding to the recognized shortage of certified theater teachers by lifting the hiring freeze in this area.

However, we are concerned that there are approximately 54 arts teacher vacancies in city public schools.  More troubling is the fact that more than 20% of schools have no full-time certified arts instructor on staff.  This is consistent at the middle and high school levels where, according to state education law, students must complete two arts courses led by an instructor certified in the subject matter they teach.

We call upon the DOE and the Office of Arts and Special Projects to ensure that all 54 vacancies are filled in a timely manner and that all schools have a minimum of one certified arts instructor on staff to ensure that New York City school children receive the quality arts instruction to which they are entitled.

Sincerely, Doug Israel
Director of Research and Policy

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.